The leadership picture at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment is cloudier than ever as outgoing chief executive Tim Leiweke's on-again-off-again departure date has been formally pushed back.
The Toronto-based sports organization – which owns the NHL's Maple Leafs, NBA's Raptors and MLS's Toronto FC franchises – said on Friday that Leiweke "will continue in his role" on an interim basis as the company focuses on finding "a seasoned business executive" to take the helm.
"I want to make sure this ends well, so I'm determined to do whatever I can to help," Leiweke said in a telephone interview. "This doesn't mean forever, or for years. I think it means months."
Asked how long he is willing to stay at the helm, Leiweke replied, "'I haven't thought about that. They said they needed more time, and I'm okay with that."
Leiweke's surprise extension is the latest twist in a process that has dragged on since last August, when he first announced his intention to leave by June 30 of this year to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities. On May 20, Leiweke told The Globe and Mail he would be staying on longer, but then appeared to retreat from that assertion the next day after MLSE chairman Larry Tanenbaum contradicted him.
"No, he is expected to leave by June 30," Tanenbaum said on May 21, the same day MLSE formally introduced Mike Babcock as the Toronto Maple Leafs' new head coach.
At the time, Tanenbaum told The Globe he and the company's two other owners – BCE Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc. – "are aligned" in their search for the next CEO, seeking to dispel rumours of a deadlock at the board level. "We're close" to choosing a successor, he said.
That no longer appears to be the case.
"As we've continued to amass an unparalleled array of sports leaders at both the executive and team level, the board of directors agreed to focus our CEO search on the appointment of a strategic business leader able to enhance MLSE's unique collection of world-class assets," Tanenbaum said in a statement released on Friday.
An MLSE spokesman declined to comment further.
The most prominent candidates to succeed Leiweke were widely thought to be John Cassaday, the recently retired CEO of Corus Entertainment Inc., and John Collins, the chief operating officer at the NHL, sources said.
Cassaday did not immediately reply to an e-mail requesting comment.